It feels funny to be writing this segment of my column, just days before hitting the road for the 2006 Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. Immediately post-Katrina, the question was whether there would, or even should be a Jazzfest this year. In fact, the same questions were raised regarding Mardi Gras, the quintessential N'awlins experience; they were ultimately resolved in favor of going forward, in an effort to help revive the tourist-based economy of the Birthplace of Jazz. Those of you who are regular readers (thanks!) know that I have tried to maintain a focus on the struggles of "The City that Time Forgot," by discussing Jazzfest and by featuring fundraising efforts through CDs and otherwise. This month, I want to tell you about two new CDs, one a recording by an all-star "krewe" of New Orleanians and one just a hot slab of gen-you-wine fonk by the inimitable Dr. John.
On the New Orleans Social Club: Sing Me Back Home CD, a core band consisting of Ivan Neville and Henry Butler on keyboards, bassist George Porter, Jr. and guitarist Leo Nocentelli (of the Meters) and drummer Raymond Weber back singers and players including Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Cyril Neville and Dr. John in a varied selection of material. The songs range from Ivan Neville's deeply funky cover of John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" to the Mighty Chariots of Fire belting out the gospel song which inspired the secular hit by Wilson Pickett, "99&1/2 Won't Do." Throughout, the music is not only topnotch, but is frequently more overtly political than on the other New Orleans post-Katrina releases out there now. "Heckuva job, Brownie," indeed. Published interviews with various bandmembers indicates that they found it cathartic to record this music; find out for yourself just how deep it can get.
Dr. John: Right Place, Right Time: Live At Tipitina's Mardi Gras '89, is a great example of the good doctor's tight, funky groove-making. Featuring a crack lineup of New Orleans musicians, including long-time drummer Herman V. "Roscoe" Ernest III and ace tenor man Amadee Castenell, Jr. (a regular in Allen Toussaint's bands), this CD starts out with a rollicking version of the New Orleans classic "Junco Partner" and doesn't let up until the last notes of Dr. John's popular "Such a Night" fade away. In between are superb renditions of such classics as the doctor's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" and the Howlin' Wolf/Koko Taylor stomper, "Wang Dang Doodle." If this one doesn't have you ordering up boiled crawfish and gumbo while yelling "Throw me something, mistah," then give up now before it gets any worse.
Galactic at Headliners
New Orleans' funky Galactic sold out Headliners, leaving disappointed fans at the door. Having parted company with singer Theryl "Houseman" de Clouet, the band cranked out one hard-driving instrumental after another. The audience was primed to dance, with the atmosphere occasionally reminiscent of a good night at Tipitina's back on Galactic's home turf. Opening act, the Gamble Brothers, described by Galactic's Robert Mercurio in an interview here in March as a hot Memphis soul band, was a tightly knit group which seemed to owe more to the evening's headliners than to Booker T and the MGs. The band's saxophonist was called up to jam with Galactic and his second horn was a great addition to the sound. All in all, another night of great, danceable and intelligent music.
Ron Hayden at the Jazz Factory
Guitarist/composer Ron Hayden returned to the Louisville jazz performance scene after a hiatus of some three years with a performance at the Jazz Factory on Saturday, April 8. Accompanied by standing members of the Ron Hayden Group, Scott Thomas on keyboards and Ted Richardson on drums, with newcomer Lee Puckett holding down Tyrone Wheeler's old post on electric bass, Hayden's two sets were a welcome comeback. Opening the evening was "Speak Your Heart," which had a sort of Latin Pat Metheny vibe. "The Double B" was a funk exercise which was followed by a waltz-time ballad, "Gracious Rule." Hayden introduced "The Flash" as having been written as a feature for former bassist Wheeler, but Puckett made the song his own, with a high register solo. Other highlights included "Peace In," which had something of a "Maiden Voyage" vibe and featured Thomas on synthesizer and "Carmen," which evoked early Metheny. In a brief conversation between sets, Hayden noted that he has been teaching at Bellarmine for the past two years, but that as far as performing goes, he had to take some time off to take care of personal issues. Louisville jazz fans should be delighted that he has now made a return to the public arena.
Ryan Cohan Quartet at the Jazz Factory
Chicago-based pianist/composer Ryan Cohan is no stranger to Louisville, having performed here several times over the past few years. The most recent concerts took place during the Passover/Easter weekend, Friday and Saturday April 14-15. His fellow players are saxophonist Geof Bradfield, bassist Lorin Cohen and drummer Kobie Watkins, whose togetherness as a performing unit has grown into a powerful force. On Saturday night, Cohan's group opened and closed the first set with "cover tunes," namely a fast-paced "Joshua," and Kenny Barron's "The Pelican." The rest of the set was comprised entirely of Cohan's original compositions. "Song for My Grandfather" featured a long and lovely Cohan solo introduction, before the other musicians joined him in this elegant tribute. "Steppin' Up" opened with an uptempo piano/drum stop-time conversation, after which first the bass and finally the saxophone were added to the mix, turning the piece more straightahead. "Another Look" kept the pace up, before the aptly-named "Gentle Souls" gave Bradfield (on soprano) and Cohan an opportunity to showcase their ballad skills. The second set featured all compositions by Cohan, except for Duke Ellington's "Don't You Know I Care" and a Bradfield fast-paced waltz, "Twirl." Cohan's tribute to Thelonious Monk, "Monkin' Around," was followed by his most recent composition, "This or That," a swinging hard bop tune with a twist. The two sets
In an e-mail interview a few days before his Louisville appearance, Cohan commented on his recording plans: "I am working on the scheduling now to record my new sextet project this summer. It was delayed a bit, but is moving forward. I plan to include a commissioned work by Chamber Music America NY which will be the most ambitious composing I have done yet.
I am debuting this work early July at Skidmore College in upstate NY with my sextet(my quartet plus Bob Sheppard and Tito Carrillo) and will be recording shortly thereafter. I actually have
material for 2 recordings-the sextet project I will be in the studio with this summer and a smaller group project-so I hope to have a couple CDS released in short intervals." For now, if you don't already own it, Cohan's Sirocco Jazz release, Here and Now will more than adequately tide you over until the release of his forthcoming projects. It is also worth noting that Cohan is the co-composer (with some previously unknown cat named Ramsey Lewis) of the Legends of Jazz opening theme (see segment below for more on this television jazz series).
Eric Person, the talented young saxophonist/composer, Eric Person and Meta-Four at the Jazz Factory Meta-Four wowed a weeknight audience at the Jazz Factory back in November. Whether you caught the performance and would like some live music to remind you of it, or you missed it but want to know what all the fuss is about, Person's Live at Big Sur (Distinction Records DR 5002) provides an excellent example of his group in concert. He is joined by pianist John Esposito and drummer Peter O'Brien, who were with him in Louisville, but with electric bassist Kenny Davis on the CD rather than acoustic bassist Adam Armstrong, who was with him here. The album opens with "Magenta," whose introduction is reminiscent of some of Ornette Coleman's lines, but which moves into a lively waltz that is more straightahead. In a way, this sets the tone for the rest of the CD, which showcases Person's compositional as well as playing talents in a program which moves almost effortlessly between mainstream and progressive.
On The Horizon
Following is a selective listing of just a few of the highlights for May at The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992‑3242). A complete schedule and more details may be found at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. Wednesday May 3: Roseanna Vitro; Thursday-Friday May 4-5: The Don Braden Quartet; Friday-Saturday May 26-27: The Dan Faehnle Quartet; looking ahead to June, mark your day planners for the return of the Monty Alexander Trio on Saturday June 3; Murali Coryell, June 8; Joey DeFrancesco, June 14; Dave Liebman on June 24; and Kevin Mahogany on June 29. Important note: If you haven't been to the Jazz factory lately, you should be aware that the schedule has changed. The Friday and Saturday set times are 7:30 and 9:30, rather than 9 and 11. An "after hours salon" is currently being set up for the weekends; more details here next month and at the Jazz Factory's website.
The Seelbach Jazz Bar, (500 S. Fourth Street, 502-585‑3200), features Dick Sisto, who always provides excellent mainstream jazz, frequently with guest artists joining his trio (with bassist Tyrone Walker and drummer Jason Tiemann). The schedule for May was unavailable at press time, but Sisto, his trio and the guests always present superlative jazz..
The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317‑253‑4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com), in addition to good local and regional talent, has announced the following: Rufus Reid Quintet - May ; Peter Erskine - May 3; Melvin Sparks - May 10; Monty Alexander - May 12; Count Basie Orchestra - May 16; Jon Faddis - June 2; Yellowjackets - June 12.
Umphrey's McGee to Perform in Louisville
Umphrey's McGee will perform in Louisville Friday, May 19th, as part of a tour in support of Safety In Numbers, the third studio album by this inventive young band from the Chicago area. I first had the pleasure of seeing them as an opening act for Gov't Mule last spring at Jazzfest in New Orleans. They held their own even when the Mule's guitar god, Warren Haynes, joined them onstage to jam. They are also featured in a new 2-DVD set, Jam in the 'Dam (Rainman RM06019), which also includes performances by the Disco Biscuits, Particle and Keller Williams. The show will be at the Brown Theatre, 315 West Broadway. For more information please call 502-584-7777. Where Safety In Numbers showcases the band's songwriting skills, showing influences ranging from Frank Zappa to Little Feat, Jam in the 'Dam allows the band the opportunity to stretch out and is more representative of the live improvisational prowess. The other performers on the DVD also demonstrate their jamming credentials. Briefly, Disco Biscuits remind me somewhat of Phish, Particle seems to have added more variety to its beat repertoire, synthesizing early Pink Floyd spaciness with dance music and Keller Williams adds a rare combination of humor to the sometimes "heavy" nature of the music here. All in all, a great introduction to some of the younger bands on the jamband scene and a good preview of the upcoming show by Umphrey's McGee.
20th Annual Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Clinic And Concert
This year will mark the 20th annual Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Clinic and Concert. Kudos to Professor Jeff Sherman and all those at Bellarmine who make this "Rite of Summer" possible. This year will be a tribute to Johnny Smith, featuring Jack Wilkins (the foremost expert on Johnny Smith) and Gene Bertoncini (who studied with Johnny at NBC where they were both on staff). At press time, the availability of Smith himself had not been confirmed. The Clinic itself, $100 including the concert, is on Monday and Tuesday, June 5 and 6, with the concert being that Monday night at 7:30 in the Amy Cralle Theater of Wyatt Hall at Bellarmine. Tickets are $10 at the door, $7 in advance at Music‑Go‑Round. For information, contact Jeff Sherman, Bellarmine University, 2001 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205; firstname.lastname@example.org, 502-452‑8182; or go to www.cas.bellarmine.edu/music/jazz. Mainstream jazz guitar just doesn't get better than these world-class musicians.
Cincinnati's "Jazz at the Hyatt," (details are available at www.jazzincincy.com) presents: Billy Harper Quintet May 5; Rachel Z Trio May 12; 'Bowl & Bunns and Friends May 19; and the Mario Abney Quintet May 26.
As always, I urge you to subscribe to sign up for "Jennifer's Jazz E‑News," by e-mailing Jenjenjazz@louisvillejazz.org. There are so many opportunities to hear live jazz that it is both impossible for me to try to provide a complete listing here and it would be duplicative in any event. Also, Louisville Music News' monthly music listings are carrying more jazz events than ever, in both the print and online editions (www.louisvillemusicnews.net).
KET Brings Back Jazz
Kentucky Educational Television (KET), our PBS affiliate, has brought back jazz on a weekly broadcast basis for the first time in some 40 years. The program is Legends of Jazz, hosted by Ramsey Lewis. It airs on Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. (EDT). The format is based on bringing together musicians who complement each other stylistically, with a brief historical overview of the instrument or style the performers share. The artists then play a song or two, first on their own and then with one another. The production is very polished, perhaps a bit too much for the spontaneous nature of the music. That's a tiny quibble, though, in light of the undisputed importance of bringing first-rate jazz to the television screen in a weekly, user-friendly way. Some of the first season guests include singers Al Jarreau and Kurt Elling, trumpeters Clark Terry and Chris Botti, alto saxophonists Phil Woods and David Sanborn and guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, to name but a few. A two-disc sampler is available, entitled Legends of Jazz: Showcase (LRS Media 968700). Disc One is the CD version, Disc Two is the DVD version. Containing 13 songs at a running time of 55 minutes, this includes a solo performance by Chick Corea of his "Armando's Rhumba," Benny Golson performing his classic "Killer Joe," and Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck performing Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train." A series of CD/DVD packages is also available containing complete shows. For additional information, go to www.legendsofjazz.net and www.ket.org.
Bookin', Like The Doodah Man
2005 marked the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the most influential band in rock and roll history after the Beatles, namely the Grateful Dead. In addition to numerous archival releases in both CD and DVD formats, there were two significant books published: Phil Lesh's autobiography, Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead (Little, Brown and Co., 2005) and David Dodd's The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics (Free Press/ Simon & Schuster, 2005). As a jazz columnist, I have tried over the past few years to draw parallels between the improvisational ethos of jazz and of the Grateful Dead. Lesh, a founding member and the band's bassist, writes in a clear, conversational style, even when reminiscing about performing while simultaneously exploring alternate dimensions while tripping. Throughout the book, he makes explicit his and the band's connections with jazz, name-checking artists including Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, all of whom were profound influences on Lesh and his fellow musicians. While there are numerous books about the Grateful Dead, to date this is the only one written by a member, notwithstanding drummer/percussionist Mickey Hart's books, such as Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Planet Drum. These discuss Hart's involvement in the Dead, but do not focus on his almost 40 years with the band. Lesh rises to the occasion, at times with almost painful honesty, as he discusses not only the spiritual bond which existed among the band members and between them and their audience, but also the dark side, including his own now-conquered problems with alcohol; and Jerry Garcia's painful slide into the poor health, exacerbated by years of heroin abuse, which led to his untimely death in 1995. Required reading for any fan of the band, it is also a superb read for those who enjoy insightful books dealing with music and sociocultural matters.
Just as, for example, Billie Holiday is best known as a passionate interpreter of songs, she is also remembered and respected for her occasional forays into songwriting. "Fine and Mellow," Billie's Blues, "Lady Sings the Blues," and, especially, "God Bless the Child," stand as tributes to the art of songwriting. Similarly, while the Grateful Dead were masterful improvisors and could take old blues ("Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," for example) or folk songs (such as "I Know You Rider") and turn them into jamfests, they also created an immense body of original work. The band's primary lyricist was Robert Hunter, who perhaps like only Allen Ginsberg in our time, channeled ancient Muses to evoke and invoke timeless scenarios of received truth. In his 16-page foreword to David Dodd's The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Hunter writes gracefully and lyrically about the impulse to write and about some of his influences, which range from Bluegrass music to ancient Greek mythology to "olde" English ballads and more. "What speaks to the head most often misses the heart, since song is above all else and beyond all else, a language of direct emotion, which to be powerful must be simple." (p. XVI) Dodd himself has amassed over 400 pages of allusions, references, cross-references and insights into the imagery and lyrics of the Grateful Dead. Hunter in his foreword and fellow lyricist John Barlow in his afterword, make clear that their lyrics are not subject to concrete explanations, but instead are meant to prod the listener (and reader) into their own individual interpretations. Thus, the many detailed annotations serve not to explain the songs, but rather to explain some of the sometimes obscure references in them. This is the type of book that, with the exception of the introductory and concluding segments, is meant to be treasured and dipped into, not necessarily read from cover to cover. The book itself is still a work in progress. It arose from a website initiated by Dodd in the early days of the Internet and is maintained at: http://arts.ucsc.edu/Gdead/AGDL/gdhome.html. As a personal note, to my surprise the line from "Doin' that Rag," "old like a rum drinking demon at tea," had never been annotated. I took it upon myself to e-mail Dodd with a reference to the character "The Checkered Demon," by S. Clay Wilson, from Zap Comix. And so it goes. Again, like Lesh's autobiography, while this is required reading for Deadheads, it is also a fascinating look into the extensive lyrics of one of the most unique bands ever. Lovers of poetry and literature will find much to admire here, too.
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.